Race, Poverty, and Family Economic Security
On any given night in the District, more than 1,400 children and their families are in a shelter or on the street. Far more families are doubled up. During the 2018-19 school year, at least 7,700 students experienced homelessness. In addition, according to the 2019 Youth Count, approximately 1,300 unaccompanied youth, up to age 24, were homeless. DC residents experiencing homelessness are almost entirely Black and brown. The District’s system for serving families and young people in need of permanent housing is fragmented and challenging to navigate. How would you reform DC government services for children and youth experiencing homelessness to ensure the system effectively enables them to obtain the services they need?
As Ward 8 member on the DC State Board of Education & during my career in government & non-profit, I’ve had a front row seat to the unique challenges that each young person experiencing homelessness in DC faces that serve as barriers to a higher quality of education because we didn’t invest enough in improving that student’s quality of life. I’ll continue to fight for community school models (of which our advocacy yielded millions in investment in the last 4 years), well-equipped liaisons at all schools & quality supports at shelter sites. In addition, I’ll fight to set bolder goals for investment in housing 0-30% AMI and rent control that builds a ladder to permanent supportive housing & sets a foundation for sustained security.
No one deserves to live in poverty, especially children and youth, yet far too many in the District face crushing circumstances that have lifelong consequences. In 2019, 37% of Black children and 17% of Latinx children lived in poverty, compared to just 2% of white children. For children and youth to succeed and meet their full potential, we must close the racial gaps and eradicate poverty. What is your definition of racial equity? How do you think the District should address the significant disparities in poverty rates of Black and brown children compared with white children?
I stand for truly affordable housing across incomes, equitably funded & supported public schools in every community, & a moral economy that expands & protects the dignity of living wage work. I’m fighting for healthy, safe, & accessible communities that are ripe with opportunity & free from gun violence while life expectancy differs by 30 years from NW to SE. On the low end of our city’s deep divides on all of these, Black & brown residents bear the brunt. I’ll continue to fight to break down systemic barriers through bold ideas like a guaranteed income program, a public health approach to gun violence, investments in Black & brown-owned small business, equitable school funding, job training with connections to DC jobs for DC residents.
Everyone who lives and works in the District has been affected by the pandemic, but not in the same way. Because of systemic racism, the impact has been particularly brutal on Black and brown residents who have suffered the greatest consequences in areas such as health, housing, job security and more. Unless we want to see these divides deepen, we need to take action. Earlier this year, DC Action for Children and the DC Fiscal Policy Institute conducted a poll of registered DC voters and found that 83 percent support raising local taxes on the highest earning residents to maintain vital public programs and services for families. Specifically, 78 percent of District voters support raising taxes on residents earning taxable income of $350,000 or more and 72 percent $250,000 or more, respectively. Would you support raising new taxes on DC’s highest income earning residents to maintain vital public services and meet children, youth and family needs?
What changes would you make to our tax system to ensure it is more equitable?
There is no reason that some of our highest income earners in one of the most economically inequitable cities in the nation should pay almost the same tax rate as working class families — especially not during this economic crisis, when the alternative is balancing the books on the backs of those suffering most. I’d change that and ensure that we give relief to working families, public employees, service workers and the small and local businesses that hire from our communities.
Since the pandemic, the importance of child care has only become more evident. Families will need access to safe, high-quality, and affordable care so they can return to work. Unfortunately, this kind of child care, costing an average of $23,000 per year, remains out of reach for most families, Early childhood educators, who are primarily Black and brown women, play a critical role in the learning and healthy development of infants and toddlers. Unfortunately, they earn about $30,000 per year, which is half of what their peers in public education earn, and they receive very few benefits. In 2018, the Council passed the Birth to Three for All Act, historic legislation that—if fully funded and implemented—will provide access to health and mental health care, early child development support, and high-quality, affordable child care to families with young children. The Act also raises wages for early childhood educators. To fully fund Birth to Three within 10 years, we will need to allocate nearly $300 million dollars. How would you plan to raise the revenue needed to fund the Birth to Three law?
For most of my adolescence, my mother worked as an early childcare provider up the street from my elementary school. The challenges families faced getting access to affordable care and the challenges folks like my mom faced making the ends meet doing the meaningful work she loved are all too familiar to me. It’s why I’ll be a champion for fully funding Birth to Three. While our financial outlook is challenging in the wake of COVID-19, the need for affordable & safe childcare has never been greater. I would explore funding Birth to Three through a mansion tax or other sustainable, dedicated revenue streams. At the same time, I’ll work with colleagues to not just spend more, but spend better as a government to meet all our goals.
In addition to potential learning loss, one of the negative consequences of virtual learning is the disparities that surface between schools. Some teachers have the resources they need to be successful in the virtual learning environment while others do not. These disparities directly affect students’ ability to learn. Out-of-school time programs can play an important role in addressing inequality and closing opportunity gaps by providing social and emotional learning, internships, mentorship, and tutors in communities and schools. However, school systems and out-of-school time providers do not effectively coordinate in order to best serve students. What steps would you take to ensure schools collaborate with out-of-school-time programs and keep them in place to serve students?
My advocacy for deeper investment in the community school model is rooted in the idea that the infrastructure, staffing and relationships that make this work possible are centerpieces of the model. Each school has a community school manager that builds the culture around the model inside the building while forming & sustaining relationships with youth & family-serving partners from the community. The entire school community — and the larger system — should see these relationships as essential pieces of a school’s core function. Through our advocacy, schools like Ballou, Anacostia & Moten are beginning that work in Ward 8 & are showing great promise.
Many District residents are enrolled in public health insurance, but they don't go to the doctor. What policies would you advance to ensure every family has a medical home in their community where they can access preventive and acute health care?
I’ve always said that building health equity in our community was about more than building a hospital — it was about building a healthcare system of primary, preventive and urgent care that makes hospital visits less likely. We have an urgent need to do that east of North Capitol and especially east of the river. We must build a community culture of health by expanding access to affordable & fresh produce, investments in nutrition & community recreation, & transportation networks that get those who need healthcare to where it is. We must expand access to urgent care centers & primary care physicians. We can tie economic benefits to good practice, which would still save millions in healthcare costs for more dire healthcare needs later on.
Many Black and brown immigrant parents have access to healthcare through the DC Healthcare Alliance. However, many report losing coverage due to the requirement to recertify every six months. Losing coverage in the middle of a pandemic can be a matter of life of death. Would you support a 12-month certification for the DC Healthcare Alliance, to align with Medicaid and DC Healthy Families, to ensure more consistent coverage?
Many states across the country, including Maryland, have recently created Children’s Cabinets to coordinate children and youth work across departments and to break down internal silos. The cabinets have created strategic goals to improve child well-being across issue areas. What are your thoughts about steps that DC can take to improve service coordination among departments and improve outcomes for children and youth?
I think a Children’s Cabinet is an amazing idea and would urge the Mayor to commission and inter-agency council that meets regularly to benchmark & chart the city’s progress on improving the welfare of children. I also believe that group along with an advisory group of child-serving organizations around the city could explore ways to streamline our city’s departmental structure to make service delivery more efficient, pulling on models from across the nation and thinking critically about the unique circumstances children and families face here in the District.
We believe that young people play a vital role in our democracy. Recent actions, organizing and protests, led by young people have been critical in advancing political and social change. Many youth leaders are too young to vote, but there is a growing Vote 16 movement. Do you support lowering the voting age to 16?
DC Action for Children believes that in order for our advocacy work to be most effective, it must be centered around the voices of children, youth, and families. This work must go further than just testimonies during DC Council hearings and meetings. In addition to lowering the voting age to 16, what are innovative ways you would involve and elevate the voices of children, youth, and families?
I’ve spent my entire career, from founding the DC Statehood Student Association, working at the Marion Barry Youth Leadership Institute, managing a teen-led violence prevention program with the Far Southeast Collaborative, or serving as the youngest-ever elected member of the Board of Ed working to center youth issues and youth voice. Our campaign has done the same to empower young people to help elect the youngest-ever member of the DC Council. I’ll use my office to continue that work, urge the re-start of youth hearings & commit to continued youth-centered engagement as their Councilmember.